Q: Can a Novel Be Too Long?

 

 

A: Only if it sucks.

Since when did people (including editors, publishers and agents) get so uppity about high-page-count novels? Last time I checked, A Suitable Boy (1,488 pages) is still a classic in the English-language literary canon. War and Peace (1,440 pages) is considered a half-decent book by two or three people. For others, Les Misérables (1,500 pages), Atlas Shrugged (1,088), and Infinite Jest (1,104 pages) represent some of their favourite stories.

“But those titles are too old, crusty and dense,” I hear readers saying as they glaze over these words with goldfish-like eyes.

Q2: So why, then, have 700-, 800- and even 900-page novels gone on to achieve such commercial and critical success in the last year, including two Pulitzer Prize-winners (The Goldfinch and The Luminaries)?

A: Because they don’t suck.

As per an article on Vulture.com, “When Did Books Get So Freaking Enormous? The Year of the Very Long Novel,” it would seem that very, very, very long books can do well, even in today’s hyper-uber-fast society of eight-second attention spans. And yet I still hear people complain about “tomes” and “paper (stack) weights” and “literary dumbbells” when they are handed a book longer than The Prophet.

The reasons cited are various and compelling:

1) “I’m busy.” Really? You must have bad time management skills.

2) “I have kids.” Interesting. So do a few billion other people on this planet.

3) “I can’t look at a page without getting sleepy./I don’t know how to read./Words are smaller these days than in the past./Save the trees!” Buy the audio book.

4) “I’m too tired to…and, you know, what with my foot fungus…so that the eggs are flipped facing the sun, with an orange glass of juice and a pair of toasts…and the peacocks running around my house are so distracting!” (Silence…then crickets…then thunder.)

Celebrate bigness. Wrap your arms around big word counts. Don’t be scared to have the same book on your nightstand for months on end. Reading’s not a race. It’s a journey, a (usually) solitary experience that enriches the soul, broadens the mind and fills the human spirit with a sense of wonder unlike any other artistic medium.

Not convinced yet? Then remember this mantra: Books are sexy. Reading is cool. Therefore, as such, and as a result, reading thick-ass books makes you sexy mild.

 

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